Southwest produce wholesalers optimistic about 2012

01/03/2012 11:32:00 AM
Jim Offner

Produce wholesalers in Phoenix and especially Las Vegas are looking for better times in 2012 than in recent years.

A year ago, the Las Vegas Sun reported economic hard times that had hit the local economy had hit the Las Vegas Strip with $2.5 billion in losses during fiscal 2010, as the traffic at casinos, hotels and restaurants had decreased.

Losses of $4.1 billion were reported a year earlier.

When the numbers are tabulated for 2011, the news is bound to be better, said Greg Bird, regional director for the Las Vegas market with Los Angeles-based Los Angeles & San Francisco Specialty Produce.

“I think that, looking statistically, there’s been single-digit growth for the economy in general, but there have been good opportunities for the food side,” Bird said.

Suppliers might have to work a bit harder to make sales, but the deals are available, he said.

“In terms of foodservice, the trends are chefs are looking for more local ingredients and unique items they can feature,” he said. “By having the ability to supply these products, it has helped create value for their customers.”

Casino business has reportedly suffered during the economic downturn of the last couple of years, but that doesn’t necessarily affect restaurant sales, Bird said.

“It’s really more the gaming side (that has suffered),” he said. “But their room occupancy has actually increased. People are going out to eat even if they’re not going out to bet.”

Diners are still going out, although some may not eating as expensively as before, he said.

That doesn’t mean upscale restaurants can’t survive or even thrive, said Cris Politis, chief executive officer of Las Vegas-based Sunny Valley Farm Inc.

“A lot of the white-tablecloth places are trying to offer more deals and not being so expensive,” he said.

Restaurant sales in Phoenix have been hit by the recession, as well, according to produce wholesalers there.

“From the overall restaurants we deal with, there’s less volume that is needed, and some of the restaurants are going out of business,” said Blair Hillman, owner of Kodiak Fresh Inc., Phoenix.

There are signs of recovery, though, said Willie Itule, owner of Willie Itule Produce, Phoenix.

“From a foodservice standpoint, we’re definitely seeing an uptrend in the market,” Itule said. “It seems like the restaurants and foodservice in general are starting to do a little more business, which is great.”

John French, owner of Produce Brokers of Arizona in Phoenix, said the foodservice sector has stabilized.

“I think it’s probably steady, for right now,” he said. “It came down drastically, but right now, it seems to be steady.”

The restaurants that have survived have learned to adjust to the tougher conditions, said John New, president of Phoenix-based Grand Avenue Produce.

“We’ve got a lot of really big chain accounts that we do, and some still aren’t back to the numbers that they were pre-2009, he said. “Others have made some changes. You know, they’re all fighting for the same dime.”



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